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The Fifth Act, Chapter 2

Title: The Fifth Act

T for violence.

Summary: FFVII Time-travel.  Gen.  Cloud has an accident with a Time Materia.

Author's Note:  Thinking on it, I wonder if I started writing this simply as an excuse to have Older!Cloud and Genesis interact on some level.

Thanks to everyone giving this a chance, even though it is well-trodden ground.  Again, un-beta'ed, so feel free to point out anything inconsistent, confusing, or typo'd to hell.  And look!  I'm being all good about linking chapters for once.  Yeah, wonder how long that will hold up.  :P

Previous Chapter 


The Fifth Act

Chapter 2



Genesis observed the half-constructed base camp with a critical eye. The shores of the northern part of Wutai were too rocky to mount a sea-based assault, so they were stuck making their way there on foot from the southern peninsula. Which meant they needed a base camp from which to launch their operations. The construction of which proved frustratingly difficult under the Wutai forces’ guerrilla tactics. 


The losses and injuries incurred on landing hadn’t helped matters, leaving the able-bodied personnel stretched thin on patrols while a skeleton crew had, over the past two weeks, struggled to erect what would be ShinRa’s base of operations for the conflict. An irritating setback, but there was little point in setting up a base if the Wutai were just going to firebomb it halfway through while their backs were turned. The sneak attacks weren’t anything his platoon of Firsts couldn’t handle, but losing Seconds and Thirds, not to mention the trooper grunts, to these barbarians was slightly embarrassing.


The seed of rebellion whispered in the back of his mind, however. While he was here fighting ShinRa’s dirty war, he wasn’t under the watchful gaze of Heidegger or those other suits, those suits that had done this to him. His fingers gripped the leather covering his shoulder – underneath he could feel the pull of bandages, wrapping a wound that would not heal.


If he suffered injuries fighting this war…


He didn’t get the opportunity to bring that thought to completion. One of the scouts approached and looked as though he might snap, his salute was so painfully straight and formal. “Commander Genesis, sir! We’ve received reports of an unidentified man outside base, sir!”


“Unidentified man? Explain, Corporal.”


“Sir! He was spotted to the west of camp, and we believe by his movements he’s avoiding being seen! He’s armed with both a Buster-style sword and multiple materia! His uniform looks similar to the SOLDIER First garb, but I checked with the field officer, and there are no blond SOLDIERs deployed, sir!”


Blond? How odd. He couldn’t be a native – Genesis had not yet seen a head of hair in Wutai that wasn’t as black as night. Could Wutai’s government be hiring mercenaries now? He obviously wasn’t one of their spies, so famed for their disguises – you never saw a Wutai ninja who did not want to be seen.


The mention of a Buster-style sword piqued his interest too. “Just one man?”


“Yes, sir!”


There was the possibility of a trap, but Wutai had not yet thrown anything at him that he couldn’t handle. “I’m going out to investigate. Inform the necessary people.”


“Sir! Alone, sir?”


“Are you implying that I can’t handle one man alone, Corporal?” Genesis drawled.


“Sir! Definitely not, sir! Just wanting to exercise caution!”


He barely resisted the urge to sneer. “Use your common sense. If I need reinforcements, you lot following after me won’t do any good at all.”


“Sir!” It was to the trooper’s credit that he managed to maintain his composure. The whole affair was tiring, however. It might save him from the insubordination of whimpering fans, but the drill sergeants back at ShinRa also made things a terrible bore.


Genesis left the base camp with no entourage and little circumstance. They already had one vicious encounter with Wutai’s forces earlier in the day, and the barbarians would be licking their wounds for some time yet before returning for a second bout. Which might be where a mercenary could come into play. 


His men were tired from a fortnight of near-constant fighting, with little sleep or shelter from the elements. They were holding up so far, but fatigue was an insidious enemy – it would claim casualties through mistakes and carelessness over time. He didn’t need to trouble his troops over a single mercenary. Genesis could handle this one alone.


His hand reached up to touch his shoulder again, before clenching into a fist and dropping back to his side.


It did not take long to find the mysterious blond stranger – he’d barely gone more than ten minutes from camp when his enhanced hearing picked up the thud of boots and jingle of metal nearby. After that, locating a trail was child’s play. Genesis scoffed to himself. He’d need to be having words with the scouts later. ‘Avoiding being seen’! That was a poor joke. Their mystery man didn’t appear to be going to a great deal of trouble to hide – anyone with mako-enhanced sight and a bit of field experience could follow his path with ease. 


Five minutes later, his opinion of his scouts dropped further. This alleged mercenary’s ridiculous spiky blond hair – who wore such a style, really – stood out like a beacon amidst the leafy green foliage. The corporal might as well have told him to look for a man who resembled a chocobo! And the stranger appeared to be plucking a thunderbird of all things. Genesis couldn’t imagine such a beast tasting very good, and it made for a ludicrous picture. 


For a moment he almost thought his men had found a nomad or hermit, but the sword on his back was of a highly unusual design. And while not quite as large as the inelegant weapon Angeal hauled around, it was doubtlessly too heavy for anyone less than a seasoned fighter. That was not a sword for hunting. His scouts weren’t completely useless, at least.


Safely concealed in the thick foliage, he considered his options. The man was definitely not native to Wutai, but he could see no evidence of other mercenaries, and the stranger didn’t act like a scout. A scout would cover his tracks more carefully, and wouldn’t stop to hunt for food. Their enemy had the home ground advantage of local supplies – if anyone were forced to resort to hunting for food, it was going to be ShinRa.


A trap, perhaps. An ambush. The blond looked absorbed enough in his task – Genesis could spare a few minutes checking the perimeter for ninja. He slipped away, making a swift circle of the clearing, ears strained for the telltale thud of heartbeats and whistle of breath. Wutai’s spies might have been masters of optical camouflage, but there were ways to detect them other than sight.


Nothing. The area remained clear after the morning’s carnage, and his position was secure. The man really was alone. Things just kept growing more interesting.


Only one thing left to do then. 


Genesis made no effort to conceal his approach. When a twig cracked under his boot, the blond stood and quickly stashed the plucked carcass to the side, before turning and facing him, hand gripping the hilt of his weapon. Quirking an eyebrow, the SOLDIER left cover and ambled into the clearing. 


He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting when he finally looked upon the stranger’s face, but it certainly wasn’t glowing blue eyes.


Genesis blinked. “You’re not SOLDIER.”


The blond sighed, hand falling away from his sword. “And you’re not Sephiroth.”


Surprise found itself swiftly supplanted by annoyance. “I’m so sorry to disappoint.” His words were practically a hiss. “Who are you and what is your business here?” 


Ignoring his question, the stranger instead asked, “Where’s the General?”


“I am the one in charge here. This is a war zone, you know.” Genesis drew his blade and held it out so the tip was pointed at the stranger’s chest. Infuriatingly, the spiky-haired stranger didn’t look the least bit threatened. Genesis’s patience was already worn thin – by his nagging sickness, ShinRa’s foolish war, Sephiroth’s incessant smugness – and he wasn’t in the mood for games. He was in the mood to blow something to smithereens, and then to burn those smithereens to ashes. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t cut you down where you stand.”


“You couldn’t. Don’t waste your time trying.” And the blond bastard said it as though it were a throwaway fact.


“You underestimate the powers of a SOLDIER First Class. Shall I put you to the test?”


“I have no interest in you,” came the blunt response. “My fight is with Sephiroth.”


It was the straw that broke the chocobo’s back. Fire burned in his veins, the blazing pain of degradation indistinguishable from the jealousy colouring his vision red. “To hell with Sephiroth! I will be the hero!”


He’d been not an arm’s width away from the stranger – with SOLDIER speed, he should have been impaled on his sword within an eye-blink. Yet a crash of metal rang through the clearing, his attack blocked by the massive blade. One-handed, at that.


The mako eyes were not just show, then. 


Genesis grit his teeth and swung again. Sparks flew as the blades clashed, and though the SOLDIER First put considerable strength into each of his blows, the blond did not budge. His form was frustratingly solid – just like fighting Angeal, or even Sephiroth.


They danced backwards and forwards for a few moments – a wordless conversation, testing the boundaries and forms of the other. Genesis had been hoping to recognise the style and exploit it, but each opening he drove for closed, each blow met by a heavy sword that sent vibrations running up his arms with every hit.


Several rounds of that, and he knew better than to continue wasting his time trading strikes. The blond had done little to retaliate, and while he remained locked in that defensive position, Genesis could not touch him. He needed to force him into action, to create a weakness.


It was time to take the fight up a notch.


The blond’s eyes widened slightly, and he leapt to the side, narrowly avoiding a burst of electricity. It hit the tree behind him with a deafening snap. The trunk exploded, sending splinters flying through the air, and with a shudder and groan, began to fall. 


A flash of yellow and black, the stranger cleaved the tree in two before it could crush him. Naïve - the action left his back exposed. Genesis attacked, heedless of the whirling leaves, but at the last moment, found his strike blocked, and with a twist the blond faced him again.


Genesis grinned openly as those bright blue eyes surveyed him, wary now. Oh yes, he was not an opponent to be taken lightly. 


His Fire materia came alive.


The reaction was lightning-quick – Genesis didn’t get a chance to fire off the spell, as he was now the one parrying a flurry of attacks. He kept an eye on the materia slotted into his opponent’s sword, trying to identify the types, but scarcely had the chance - far too busy keeping the massive blade at bay.


“You’re too good to just be a simple mercenary!” he taunted as they locked weapons once more. His shoulder pulsed. “Just tell me what your business is, and maybe I’ll let you walk away.”


“My business isn’t with you. That’s all you need to know.”


Sephiroth, Sephiroth, Sephiroth. Hojo’s crown jewel, ShinRa’s much-touted Silver General. Nobody wanted to spar with him, not when there was a stronger opponent to defeat. With a growl, Genesis swept his sword out in a wide arc, throwing the stranger away, buying himself enough time to gather his next spell.


See how he held up under the effects of a Time materia! 


“Then you’ll be going no further!” he snarled as the spell shot from his fingertips. As expected, since the glowing light didn’t look dangerous, the blond didn’t dodge… but what was alarming was that he didn’t stop, either. 


It took everything Genesis had to deflect the sweep of that monstrous blade. Such an uncouth weapon. His eyes widened as a black boot lashed out at his knee. Unorthodox fighting style, too! The heel grazed the fabric of his pants, then the sword swung around again, and the SOLDIER found himself unconsciously retreating. 


This was not acceptable! Why hadn’t the spell worked? His materia was mastered!


With renewed fervour, he pressed his attack, a crimson whirl dancing across the uneven ground. The blond blocked, evaded, sidestepped, each strike echoing harshly through the trashed forest glen. Somewhere, there would be an opening; a sword so unwieldy always left one…


There! Genesis twisted his angle, and in a flash, drove towards the exposed right shoulder. The battle was his!


Except, impossibly, he met steel once more. And another sword descended towards him, even as his crimson blade remained locked in parry.


With every ounce of enhanced speed he possessed, Genesis threw himself backwards, seeking security in the edge of the tree line. The blond didn’t pursue – just regarded him coolly, a weapon gripped in each hand. Not the same broadsword that had hung on his back, not exactly. Something half the size.


His sword separated! Genesis cursed faintly under his breath, refusing to acknowledge he was maybe just a little impressed. 


Further swordplay would be dangerous – against a lesser opponent, two swords wouldn’t bother him in the slightest, but strategically worked against him in this situation. His free hand wandered to his shoulder. It began to throb again during the battle, but mindful of his opponent, he forced his arm down. He couldn’t expose weakness here. 


The Stop spell hadn’t worked. But… “You are certainly the most interesting opponent I’ve had for a while, but playtime is over! I’ll show you the true power of SOLDIER!”


The red glow built up in his hands, expanding, brightening, until he slammed them together and it doubled in size. Oh yes, he could see the blond recognised what he was doing, was already moving, but it would be too late-


Pain lanced through his body. Spots flared in his vision, and the spell died in his palms. He staggered. 


No, not now of all times-!


Those mako-cursed blue orbs widened, and his foe came to an abrupt stop, clipping his sword to his back and catching him in his arms as the SOLDIER fell forward. Genesis wanted to laugh, wanted to curse – any other situation, it would have been the perfect ruse, could have caught the warrior with his guard down, but here he was incapable of doing anything


The stranger knelt, lowering him to the ground, keeping him propped up with an arm behind his shoulders. He wore a silver earring in his left ear, Genesis noted. A wolf. Oddly fitting. A wolf in chocobo’s clothing. “What’s the matter with you?” The tone was cold and impersonal – a simple query, as though they were strangers on the street instead of enemies fighting with intent to kill. 


“None… of your… concern,” he ground out through gritted teeth. Why was it so much worse this time? Normally he could continue fighting through the pain. Angry, he tried to push himself to his feet, away, to regain his dignity, but found himself unable to resist clutching at his shoulder as the pain freshened, a soft cry wrenching from his lips.


The stranger was not easily dissuaded. His black-gloved hands insistently pulled back his red leather coat to access the perceived injury underneath. Genesis waved his arm wildly in an attempt to bat him away – it was his secret, not even the other Firsts in his platoon knew – but the blond was stubborn and methodical, pushing his jacket and then shirt off his shoulder and unwrapping the bandages to check the wound with quick, efficient motions that belied previous experience. 


Genesis turned his head away, teeth still clenched as the throbbing waves of agony receded into the more familiar dull burn. Stranger or not, he didn’t want to see the disgust at the gangrenous flesh, at the way the veins around the blackening wound were swollen and miscoloured.


The blond surprised him yet again, however. It was not horror that dominated his expression, but instead, realisation.

"Degradation," he murmured.  "You're Genesis.  I had forgotten..."

"I don't believe we've met," he snapped waspishly.  It was one thing for a complete stranger to know his name - he was famous enough on the streets of Midgar - but to recognise degradation for what it was-!

There was no answer – the blond instead fumbled through his pockets and withdrew a vial, holding it out as though it were more precious than purified mako.


“And what is that?” Despite his position, the SOLDIER First still managed a sneer. “Poison?” The blond head shook. Genesis scoffed. “Then save your pity. This is not something a mere Hi-Potion can heal.”


“It’s not. This is different.” The stranger gestured to his shoulder, suddenly looking awkward. "I don't know for sure if it'll work on that, but..."


It really could be poison, or a sedative, or any other number of harmful substances. He was in enemy territory and the man’s motives were still unknown. Only an idiot would accept a drink offered by the enemy. 


Yet there was discomfit in his expression – the first sign of weakness or humanity he’d seen from the man so far. On someone so expressionless, it couldn’t be faked. Besides, his entire body was already poisoned – he doubted whatever the little vial contained could do any further harm. At this point, he was willing to take the risk, just to stay the pain for even a moment.


Best to get it over with quickly then. He snatched the offered vial, fumbled with the cap, and then downed it in one gulp before he could change his mind. The stranger looked startled. “What?”


“It’s… normally you just need to pour it on the affected area. But I guess it doesn’t matter.”


Great. The chocobo-head could have told him that before he downed the thing in one swig. But before Genesis got the chance to rebuke him for his incredible stupidity, he became distracted by the tingling sensation spreading through his body.


It was like a cure spell, only... more so.  It took him a minute to realise that the dull burn, the persistent throb he had learned to live with, was fading. The prickle of knitting flesh held his attention, but it wasn't just his festering wound healing - the purification went deeper. And he hadn’t realised how cold his body had become until he felt warmth flowing right to his fingertips. There were moments of brief, blazing pain that had him unintentionally gripping the stranger’s arm – still holding him up – but they moved through him like a tide of boiling water, leaving him feeling clean and strangely raw.


“Worse than I thought…” The words sounded as though they were murmured underwater. It was as though it was happening to someone else, even though the pain was so very real, a fiery itch on the inside that he couldn’t scratch. And for one moment when Genesis closed his eyes, he could have sworn he’d been striding through a vast, calm lake, and had caught a glimpse of a gentle, stunningly beautiful blonde woman, clad in ornate armour which put even the most lavish of Loveless costumes to shame. And in that moment, he felt peace and tranquillity, emotions so beautiful and fragile he wanted to weep.


The whole process only took a couple of minutes, then slowly the pain receded, and fevered visions were replaced with ordinary darkness. When he opened his eyes again, his shoulder was whole – the skin smooth and unblemished - and Genesis felt the best he had for months


Expression filled with wonder, he raised his gaze to stare at the stranger, who wore only a look of relief. 




Anticipating the question, he explained, “It worked. A gift from… the Planet, I guess.” Seeing Genesis was fine and able to support his own weight again, the blond stood and retreated – though apparently more intent on getting his own personal space back than returning it to the SOLDIER. “I think… she would have wanted you to have it.”


“The gift of the Goddess…” Genesis murmured, fingers still probing at the place where that infernal scratch had haunted him for so long. After a moment, he turned his attention to the – what was he, now? Not an enemy, surely, but he didn’t appear to belong to ShinRa, either. “What’s your name?”


The question startled the man – it was evident in the way his posture tensed and his eyes widened. Genesis estimated him to be in his mid-twenties, but for just that moment he resembled an uncertain teenager. 


The pause before answering lasted far too long, and when the blond finally gave in, it was grudgingly. “…Strife.”


“That a stage name?” he drawled, not convinced that he hadn’t been given a pseudonym.


“Last name.” And he doubted the man was lying, because Genesis could pick actors – he was something of a thespian himself.


“No first names where you come from then, Strife?”


“It’s not important.” 


Genesis supposed he was right. He pulled himself to his feet and made a shallow bow, arms held out to the side disarmingly. “It appears I owe you a debt of gratitude, Strife.” There was that discomfort again, and the SOLDIER First was privately pleased he could elicit at least one emotion from the blond enigma. “Though the issue of your presence in this territory remains unresolved.”


Another pause, but by now Genesis recognised that one preceded almost everything Strife said, as though he were weighing every word carefully before it left his mouth. “I’m not here to fight with you.”


“As you’ve made crystal clear. But what, pray tell, is your business with Sephiroth?” The name dripped with venom.


Another reaction, though this one was better hidden. “It’s personal.” A short answer, but its curtness spoke volumes. 


Genesis arched an eyebrow. “Personal business.”




“With Sephiroth.”


The absurdity of the statement wasn’t lost on Strife, if his quiet glower was anything to go by. 


Genesis shrugged, privately marvelling at the lack of painful tug on his shoulder following the gesture.  “In that case Strife, so long as you don’t get in my way here, I suppose I can turn a blind eye to your presence for now. But you’re wasting your time. Sephiroth is in Midgar. Everyone knows that.” This was his war, his chance at glory.


The blond actually looked miffed at the news. Fascinating. “Then I’m done here.” And then he had the gall to turn his back on him and walk away


Genesis was tempted to call the man back, follow him, pester him for more information – because his curiosity, unquenchable beast that it was, had been startled from its long and peaceful rest – but it was unseemly for someone of his character to chase after the stranger like a puppy. That particular honour was reserved for Angeal’s bouncy Second.


Besides, he doubted this was the last he’d see of Strife. Men like that couldn’t hide anywhere on the Planet.


Especially not when people like Genesis were of the mind to draw him out.

Next chapter





Nov. 8th, 2009 05:53 am (UTC)
Lucky for you, next update is today! \o/

I think it's safe to say the target will eventually have to change, otherwise this would be a very short fic. XD